How to certify a vernal pool.

A vernal pool is a small, usually temporary body of water that supports a unique biological community.  Some vernal pools are not be much bigger than a large puddle, but all vernal pools make an important contribution to the diversity of our wildlife.  By taking the time to certify a vernal pool, you document its location and its biology, and provide an important level of protection to this fragile ecosystem.


Contact Jane Winn for information.

Video tutorial (in two parts)

The video below, in two parts, is Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s (BEAT’s) tutorial on how to certify a vernal pool in Massachusetts.

Note:  You can now fill out all your vernal pool certification forms online at the website of The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). You can even submit the forms online.  NHESP has produced a tutorial for accessing, completing, and submitting their online forms.

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program offers the following guidance on its website:

The NHESP strongly recommends that landowner permission be obtained prior to collecting certification documentation.  It is the sole responsibility of an individual providing vernal pool certification information to ensure that all activities associated with gathering said information comply with the law.

Photos and audio recordings of vernal pool species

Here are some photos and audio recordings of some of the species mentioned in the above video.

Official guidelines and forms

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage And Endangered Species Program is the agency responsible for certifying vernal pools.  Here is a link to their Guidelines for the Certification of Vernal Pool Habitat (pdf) (“Guidelines”).  This document also includes the forms that must be filled out and submitted to Natural Heritage for the certification of vernal pools. The information from these forms may be submitted on-line (preferred) or mailed in.

How to find on-line maps of certified and potential vernal pools

To find the Mass GIS map of Certified and Potential Vernal Pool locations in Massachusetts, go to the MassGIS website , and click on “Oliver”, the MassGIS mapping tool.

The map may take a few minutes to load depending on the speed of your computer. A map of Massachusetts will appear. At the top, there is a tool bar with a +magnifying glass. Click on the +magnifying glass, then click-and-drag a box around the area you are interested in. Wait for the map to reload.  You may need to do this a few times to zoom into your desired area.

On the right side of the screen, you can select different layers. These are fun to experiment with, but for now lets stay focused on vernal pools. Open the “Images” folder to reveal its subfolders.  Choose one of either of the following two base layer image types.

  • USGS Topographic Maps
  • Orthophotos

You can view only one of these map types at a time, (topographic map or ortho photo) not both. You can turn them on and off by checking the box in the Active Data Layer section. If you have both layers checked (turned on) the one that is higher up in the list will show.

To see the Certified Vernal Pools and Potential Vernal Pools look in the Available Data Layers section:

  • Conservation/Recreation – Natural Heritage Data – NHESP Certified Vernal Pools
  • Conservation/Recreation – Natural Heritage Data – Potential Vernal Pools

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